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Posts Tagged ‘Martin Luther’

Luther at the Diet of Worms, by Anton von Werner, 1877.

There is no king saved by the multitude of an host: a might man is not delivered by much strength.

  • Psalm 33:16

Watching the news.  It’s hard to do these days.

I admit to following day to day events, politics, economics, and the like.  It’s too much a part of me not to do so. 

But it really isn’t a very enjoyable experience. 

There’s simply no good news.  Or at least many days it doesn’t seem like it.

As a reformed believer, I know well that God has decreed all things, whatsoever comes to pass.  He doesn’t merely know in advance what’s going to take place, or passively allow it to happen.  He actively brings about the events that occur, both in our own lives and on the scale of nations and of the world. 

As much as I don’t like it, God decreed from all eternity that Joseph Robinette Biden would be inaugurated as the 46th president of the United States on January 20, 2021.  And his purposes in doing so are his own glory and the good of his people.    

But even though a Biden presidency is for our ultimate good as Christians, this does not mean that it is going to be a pleasant experience. 

Scripture does not teach a foolish optimism where we’re expected to treat disasters as if they were manna from heaven.  It’s okay to call a disaster a disaster an mourn over it.  As the Author of Hebrews tells us, “Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful.” 

Jeremiah wept at the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians.  Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus.  If it was not wrong for them to grieve, it is not wrong for us to grieve the enormous disaster that has befallen our nation.

And yet, there comes a time when grieving must end, and work must begin.  We, all of us, have suffered difficulty and disappointment in our lives.  There is a time for grieving, and a time to cease grieving. 

Joe Biden is in a position to do a lot of damage to this nation.  As Christians, we have a responsibility to speak out against his evil policies, to refute them from the Word of God and, if possible, to prevent them from being enacted.  We have a responsibility to preach the Gospel of Christ, that perhaps some who don’t know him may hear and be saved.  We have a responsibility to protect and provide for our families, both our natural family and our brothers and sisters in Christ. 

How do we do this?  Do we look to ourselves, to our inner strength?  As the hymn goes, the arm of flesh will fail you, you dare not trust your own.

No.  It is to Christ we must look if we are going to find the knowledge, wisdom, and strength to not just to survive, but to triumph in these dark times. 

This brings me to the lesson from Luther which I’d like to discuss. 

As we did in last week’s post, this week we’ll be referring to Luther’s treatise “To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation.”

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Luther at the Diet of Worms, by Anton von Werner, 1877.

And it cast down truth to the ground; and it practised, and prospered.

  • Daniel 8:12

Truth is cast to the ground. 

I’ve thought about that quite a lot in recent years.  It seems as if the lie always prospers, while truth, it if even is heard at all, is quickly dismissed as nonsense and those who speak it as fools or worse. 

I was reminded once again of just how corrupt things have become after watching some of the shenanigans in the stock market last week with the big dust up over the Gamestop stock and how, supposedly, a group of small investors beat the big guys on Wall Street. 

I’ll not dive into the details of what took place, but on the surface we can say that at least one major hedge fund sustained significant losses when its short position on Gamestock was blown up by investors piling into the company’s stock and driving it to over $400 per share. 

For our purposes, what important to understand is that when an investor – either an individual or an institution such as a hedge fund – short sells a stock, he profits when the price goes down.  If the price goes up, the short seller loses money.  If the stock price goes way up, as was the case with Gamestop, the short seller loses a lot of money. 

When the losses were piling up for the big guys during the week, it didn’t take long for the weeping and gnashing of teeth to begin.  Billionaire hedge fund manager Leon Cooperman went on an epic rant on CNBC last Thursday, 1/28, saying, “The reason the market is doing what it’s doing is people are sitting at home getting checks from the government. This fair share, is a (bleep) concept.  It’s just a way of attacking wealthy people and I think it inappropriate and we all gotta work together and pull together.” 

Just how true is the narrative that a bunch of unemployed Robin Hood traders on their own drove up the price of Gamestop, thus inflicting heavy losses on some hedge funds, I cannot say for sure.  I have my doubts that things are what we’re being told, but, at the very least, Cooperman seemed to accept that narrative when he went on his rant last week.    

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Pharaoh decrees the drowning of every new male offspring among the Israelites by Michiel van der Borch, 1332.

By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden three months by his parents, because they saw he was a beautiful child; and they were not afraid of the king’s command.

  • Hebrews 11:23

We Christians in the West have been singularly blessed in that we have rarely been faced with the option of either obeying God or our governors.  For the most part, the laws of the state have not required us to violate our consciences.

But that period of relative peace seems to be drawing to a close. 

In the next few years, it is very likely Christians in America and elsewhere in the formerly free West will be faced with a choice either of obeying the civil authorities or God. 

This will come as a new and strange experience for most of us.  In my own life, I’ve not found myself in such a position.  Ideally, this should be the case.  Civil magistrates, if they are properly doing their jobs, will seek to pass laws that are in accord with the law of God.  The Bible tells us that one of the two legitimate functions of civil government is to “praise the good,” by which is meant pass laws that are in accord with God’s law.  If men violate these laws, they are to be punished.  This leads to the other legitimate function of civil government, punishing those who practice evil by breaking those laws.

Perhaps in part because Christians in the West have, for the most part, not had to face the choice of either obeying the civil magistrate or God, many Western Christians are uncomfortable with talk of civil disobedience.  “That’s the stuff of Marxists and radicals,” they may say.  “After all, it says right there in Romans 13, ‘Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities.  For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.  Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.’ That settles the matter.” 

This argument carries a lot of weight with Christians.  It certainly seems convincing, at least if we take this passage in isolation.  Christians, it appears, must without question always obey the government in all things everywhere no matter what.  And if Christians do not obey all governmental edicts to the letter, they get what they have coming to them when they are punished by the civil authorities. 

I have no doubt but that most ordinary Christians who hold this position are sincere in what they say.  They want to be law abiding citizens.  But if we follow out this form of thinking to its ultimate conclusion, we find that the practical effect of their stance – Christians must always obey the government in whatever it says – is some form of tyranny, where right an wrong are determined by the will of the leader.  Put another way, Christians who hold this position are unknowingly endorsing the fuhererprinzip, the leadership principle, where whatever the leader says goes. 

But the fuhererprinzip is not Christian. Christians are not called to blindly follow government edicts, but to compare what their civil magistrates are saying with the Scriptures.  The Christian idea of judging the statements of civil magistrates, and all others for that matter, by the Scriptures is known, not as the fuhererprinzip, but the Schriftprinzip, or the writing principle.

In his essay “Christ and Civilization,” John Robbins provides several quotes from Martin Luther on the Schriftprinzip.    

  • We intend to glory in nothing but Holy Scripture, and we are certain that the Holy Spirit cannot oppose and contradict himself.
  • I have learned to hold only the Holy Scripture inerrant. All other writings I so read that, however learned or holy they may be, I do not hold what they teach to be true unless they prove by Scripture or reason that it must be so.
  • Putting aside all human writings, we should spend all the more and all the more persistent labor on Holy Scriptures alone…. Or tell me, if you can, who is the final judge when statements of the fathers contradict themselves? In this event the judgment of Scripture must decide the issue, which cannot be done if we do not give Scripture the first place…so that it [the Bible] is in itself the most certain, most easily understood, most plain, is its own interpreter, approving, judging, and illuminating all the statements of all men…. Therefore nothing except the divine words are to be the first principles for Christians; all human words are conclusions drawn from them and must be brought back to them and approved by them.
  • Scripture itself…alone is the fount of all wisdom.
  • And even in the writings of the fathers we should accept nothing that does not agree with Scripture. Scripture alone must remain the judge and master of all books.

Now if what Luther said is true, and it is, then this implies that Christians have, not only the right, but the duty before God, to compare what their civil magistrate is saying with the Scriptures.  And if it is found that the laws of the state require what Scripture forbids, or forbid what Scripture requires, then they are bound to obey God rather than men. 

But not only is civil disobedience an implication of the Scriptures, there are many examples in Scripture of believers resisting tyrannical edicts of civil magistrates.  And these individuals, far from being censured by the Word of God, are praised for the stances they took. 

With this in mind, let’s look at some of these examples of resistance to tyranny in the Bible.

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The Death of Athaliah, 1870, by Gustave Dore

When Athaliah the mother of Ahaziah saw that her son was dead, she arose and destroyed all the seed royal.

  • 2 Kings 11:1

As of this writing in early September 2020, Americans find themselves faced with another presidential election in just two short months.  As is the American custom, much ink has been spilled over the past year concerning the November election.  In reality, the spilling of ink began much earlier.  With so much election commentary out there, surely, it would seem, there’s nothing more this author could add to the mix that hasn’t already been discussed thousands of times and by people much better qualified.

But this would be a mistake.

There is one topic, and a significant one to be sure, that, on the one hand, is a prominent feature of the 2020 presidential election but, on the other hand, has received hardly any commentary at all.  

Joe Biden’s March 15th promise, and the fulfillment of that promise, to choose a woman running mate. 

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Soleimani_Car Remains

Credit…Iraqi Prime Minister Press Office, via Associated Press

“[B]ecause of our foreign policy of interventionism developed in the twentieth century, and because of our more recent policy of pre-emptive war, the United States has become the primary target of militant Muslims worldwide.”

 

U.S. Strike in Iraq Kills Qassim Suleimani, Commander of Iranian Forces,” ran the New York Times headline.  Why did the US take this drastic action?  The article’s subheadline explaines, “Suleimani was planning attacks on Americans across the region, leading to an airstrike in Baghdad, the Pentagon statement said.”

This explanation is not something made up by the New York Times.  Rather, it is the same explanation given by official Washington for the deadly January 3 drone strike in Baghdad.

In his remarks from Mar-a-Lago, Donald Trump, after asserting that his highest and most solemn duty was the defense of our nation, claimed that, “Soleimani was plotting imminent and sinister attacks on American diplomats and military personnel, but we caught him in the act and terminated him…We took action last night to stop a war.  We did not take action to start a war.”

PBS reports Secretary of State Mike Pompeo giving similar justification in an interview he did with CNN.  According to PBS, Pompeo said that Gen. Qassem Soleimani “was actively plotting in the region to take actions, the big action as he described it, that would have put dozens if not hundreds of American lives at risk.  We know it was imminent.   This was an intelligence-based assessment that drove our decision-making process.”

Reuters reported Pompeo’s remarks from January 3 thus, “last night was the time that we needed to strike to make sure that this imminent attack  that he was working actively was disrupted.”

Finally, the National Review quoted Brian Hook, U.S. Special Representative for Iran, saying, “The President’s first responsibility is the safety of the American people.  Qasem Soleimani was plotting imminent attacks in the region against Americans in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon that could have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of people.”

One common thread that links all four quotes above is the word “imminent.”  We are told by all three gentlemen that General Soleimani was not merely plotting to harm Americans, but that his attack or attacks were “imminent.” Therefore, they argue, the President’s decision to drone Soleimani – in his January 3 statement quoted above, President Trump said “Last night, at my direction, the United States military successfully executed a flawless precision strike” thus taking responsibility for the decision – ought not be viewed as an act of aggression, but rather as one of self-defense.

The term “imminent” is key to understanding the reasoning behind the killing of Soleimani as well as determining whether the President’s decision was a moral one.  The reason “imminent” is such a key term relative to Soleimani’s death is that it’s the tip-off, the big tell, that this attack was carried out using the doctrine of preemptive war as the theoretical framework to justify the decision by the President to kill the Iranian general.

So what is the doctrine of preemptive war?  Let’s take a look.

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“Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me, Amen.”

    – Martin Luther

Here I Stand, A Life of Martin Luther by Roland Bainton (New York, New York: Meridian, 1995, 302 pages with bibliography, references, source of illustrations and index).

Luther_HIS

Many years ago, when first I began to read about the Reformation, I came across Roland Bainton’s biography of Martin Luther and couldn’t put it down. I thought then, and think to this day, that it is a classic on the subject of Martin Luther and the Reformation.

Born in England in 1894, Bainton lived most of his life in the United States, graduating from Yale University with a Ph.D., where he later served as the Titus Street Professor of Ecclesiastical History. With a background like that, readers it may be tempted to suppose that Bainton’s writing, while scholarly, would have little appeal to the non-specialist. He would be half right. While it is true that Bainton was a gifted scholar, Here I Stand is anything but a dull read.

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Martin Luther

Just over a month back, Protestants celebrated the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. It was a noteworthy occasion. October 31, 2017 marked 500 years since a little known Augustinian monk nailed his 95 theses to the Wittenberg church door and changed the course of history.

But while as Protestants we look back with joy at Luther’s bold stand against the papacy and proclamation of the Gospel of Justification by Belief Alone, not everyone was or is so appreciative of his achievements and the achievements of the other Reformers. But to call them unappreciative is really far too mild. The truth is, Luther and his contemporaries were hated unto death by representatives of the Roman Church-State (RCS), who did everything in their power to frustrate the spread of the Gospel in the 16th century.

And their efforts to quash the preaching of the Gospel did not stop in the 16th century, but continue unabated to this day. One example of this is the way the Pope Francis and the RCS attempted to co-opt this year’s Reformation Day celebration and turn it into a great big group hugging, Kumbaya singing rapprochement between Rome and her erring children, the “separated brethren” of the Reformation.

But Rome isn’t the only false church singing a false Gospel siren song in the hopes of wooing Protestants onto the rocks of works righteousness. No, Eastern Orthodoxy wants in on the act too.

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Day 2 of The Trinity Foundation’s Reformation conference saw four separate presentations by two men whose work has long been associated with the Foundation.  Mark W. Evans, a minister from Faith Presbytery, the Bible Presbyterian Church presented a single paper in two sessions titled The Reformation:  Past, Present, and Future.

The other speaker of the day was Dr. Paul M. Elliott, president of Teaching the Word Ministries.  Dr. Elliott gave two separate talks, the first titled The Reformation is Not a Return to Pre-Reformation Positions, and the second The Reformation Is Not Co-Belligerence with Unbelievers.

For those interested, all four sessions from Day 2 plus the two sessions from Day 1 were recorded and will be available on the Trinity Foundation website.  The planned date of the posting is not known to this writer.

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Wittenberg-1536.jpg

Wittenberg as seen from the Elbe, 1536.

October 31 is known to much of the world as the pagan holiday of Halloween. But for Christians, October 31 represents something quite different. It’s what we call Reformation Day.

 

For it was on that date in 1517 that Martin Luther’s nailed his 95 theses to the Wittenberg church door and forever changed the world for the better.

The Gospel of Justification By Faith Alone – the idea that sinful men are saved, not by doing good works, but solely by faith in Christ Jesus – once again shone forth in all its brilliance after a millennium of suppression by the Roman Church-State and millions were saved as a result.

But Luther’s rejection of church tradition in favor of the objective, written Word of God did not revolutionize the church only. It resulted in a whole new civilization, what we now call the West, coming into existence.

Ideas such as the sanctity of private property, honesty in exchange, the rule of law, capitalism, written constitutions, secular work as pleasing to God all found their origin in the Protestant Reformation that began with Luther.

Though it is not commonly understood by Americans, our nation owes its very existence to the Biblical ideas recovered at the time of the Reformation.

Most of us are taught to trace the foundations of our republic to Greece and Rome. But limited, constitutional government did not begin with Greco-Roman civilization. It began with the Hebrew Republic as recorded for us in the Old Testament. Thus the Bible is foundational to our political system.

In like manner, our economic system of capitalism or free enterprise finds its origins, not in the writings of pagan philosophers, nor in the thought of medieval scholastics, nor in the principles of the Renaissance, but in the propositions of the Word of God, the 66 books of the Bible.

To put it another way: No Protestant Reformation, no United States of America. To quote John Robbins,

One of Luther’s most brilliant followers, John Calvin, systematized the theology of the Reformation. The seventeenth-century Calvinists laid the foundations for both English and American civil rights and liberties: freedom of speech, pres, and religion, the privilege against self-incrimination, the independence of juries, and right of habeas corpus, the right not to be imprisoned without cause. The nineteenth-century German historian Leopold von Ranke referred to Calvin as the “virtual founder of America” (Civilization and the Protestant Reformation).

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meltdown-620Today we may apply the Apostle’s words first to those (rulers) who without cogent cause inflict exorbitant taxes upon the people, or by changing and devaluating the currency, rob them, while at the same time they accuse their subjects of being greedy and avaricious.

    – Martin Luther, Commentary on Romans 2:2, 3

Now, if the laws of buying and selling are corrupted, human society is in a manner dissolved; so that he who cheats by false weights and measures, differs little from him who utters false coin.

    – John Calvin, Commentary on Leviticus 19:35

But if life is an equal value to all, there is something strange, when war comes and large military expenditures are necessary, in requiring the person who has saved for a life insurance policy to lose half its buying power by inflation, while the spendthrift loses nothing and enjoys high wages to boot.

    – Gordon H. Clark, A Christian View of Men and Things, pp. 101-102

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